P066 – Political Subjectivities and the Everyday
10 July, 09:00 – 10:30

Rueedi Franziska / University of the Witwatersrand
Lissoni Arianna / University of the Witwatersrand


Scholarly engagements with resistance politics and anti-colonial movements have long advocated the need to understand the diverse trajectories that shaped struggles against oppressive regimes. The interlacing of ideology, discourse and subjective experiences not only shaped organised resistance politics but the emergence of political subjectivities that were at the core of how local actors envisaged possibilities and strategies for political and social change. Subjectivities are therefore central in understanding the relation between the political and the everyday. This panel interrogates the multiple ways in which contentious politics intersect with the everyday. It invites, for example, contributions examining the role of individual actors, families and broader networks through an analysis of biographies, circuits of knowledge and modes of communication such as rumour and gossip, the gendering of politics and the everyday, and the role of affect in shaping political subjectivities. A particular focus will be on politics and the everyday during apartheid in South Africa.

Les subjectivités politiques et le quotidien

Les recherches universitaires menées sur les politiques de résistance et les mouvements anti-coloniaux évoquent depuis longtemps le besoin de comprendre les différentes trajectoires qui ont façonné les luttes contre des régimes politiques oppressifs. La combinaison de l’idéologie, des discours et des expériences subjectives n’a pas uniquement influencé l’organisation des politiques de résistance mais a également eu un impact sur l’émergence de subjectivités politiques. Celles-ci ont été au fondement de la manière dont les acteurs locaux ont perçu les opportunités et les stratégies permettant d’atteindre un changement social et politique. Les subjectivités sont par conséquent cruciales à la compréhension de la relation entre le politique et le quotidien. Ce panel cherche à examiner les façons multiples dont le quotidien et les mouvements contestant l’ordre établi s’entrecroisent. Il invite les chercheurs à proposer des contributions examinant le rôle d’acteurs individuels, de familles et de réseaux plus larges en se fondant sur l’analyse des biographies, des modes de transmission des savoirs et des manières de communiquer telles que la rumeur et les ragots, celles étudiant le lien entre catégories de genre, politique et quotidien, ainsi que le rôle de l’affect dans la construction des subjectivités politiques. Un intérêt particulier sera porté en Afrique du Sud pendant l’apartheid.

Paper 1

Lissoni Arianna / University of the Witwatersrand

Caring for the Nation: Welfare and the Making of Political Subjects in the ANC in Exile in Tanzania

During the three decades after its banning in 1960, the external structures of the ANC expanded on a scale which is unprecedented in the history of any other exiled liberation movement. While political and military work remained the main focus of the ANC in exile given its status of liberation movement, its bureaucratic and administrative machinery was also responsible for the welfare, both material and social, of its members –this involved housing, feeding, clothing, educating and providing medical care for several thousands of people. This paper examines how the welfare of ANC exiles based in Morogoro, Tanzania (where the majority of its members were students at the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College, Somafco, and Dakawa), was administered in the period from the late 1970s to liberation. It will argue that the provision of welfare was an important way in which the ANC performed the role of family and functioned in loco parentis. The institutional practices that were developed in exile to care for the needs of ANC members to improve new and ever changing conditions of communal living and belonging and the close social, cultural and political bonds that were formed in the process were integral to the making of political subjectivities and to the imagining of a national community whose legacies continue to live in the present.

Paper 2

Shubin Vladimir / Institute for African Studies, Russian Academy od Sciences

Uncle Alf

This paper is devoted to Alfred Nzo, or “Uncle Alf” as he was affectionally called by the fellow members of the African National Congress, especially by its youth. Although for over twenty years he was the ANC Secretary-General that is its “Second-in-Command” after President Oliver Tambo, his role has not been adequately appreciated in the “new South Africa”. This is also true about his activities as the first post-apartheid Minister of Foreign Affairs.
To a large extent such a situation was created by subjective factors, including features of his character like modesty and humility on one hand, and unfair criticism of his actions on the other hand.
However the true history of the ANC, especially “in exile” or rather in the years of underground and armed struggle cannot be written without a proper assessment of the role of its Secretary- General.
The paper will be based on the author’s memory of meetings with “Uncle Alf” during the three decades (1969 – 1999), discussions with Nzo’s South African and Soviet friends and the ANC and Soviet archival documents.

Paper 3

Brown Julian / University of the Witwatersrand

Everyday Life against Political Subjectivities of Crisis in South Africa

Approximately two decades after the end of the apartheid political order, South Africa is once again the site of regular popular protests. Many of those protests have occurred in sites of severe material disadvantage, and have been described as ‘service delivery protests’ – a description that implicitly characterises these protests as emerging from moments of social and material crisis. In doing so, the notion of ‘service delivery protests’ removes the experiences of everyday life from considerations of political subjectivity and replaces them with the experiences of a temporary (and resolvable) crisis. By a sleight of hand, this removes contemporary subjectivity from the realm of political radicalism, and moves it into the realm of bureaucratic management.
The effect of this is to strip contemporary political subjectivities of their radical content.
In this paper, I propose to return to the work of Henri Lefebvre on everyday life and read it against his theorisation of ‘the event’ as developed in response to the May 68 student uprisings. This approach to everyday life offers alternatives both to the potential quiescence of de Certeau’s (and other’s) approach to the routinisation of everyday experiences, and to the imposed desubjectification of crisis management responses. By examining recent protests on the outskirts of Johannesburg, between about 2008 and 2014, I will show how everyday life feeds into political subjectivities, and forms the basis for a radical politics.

Paper 4

Rueedi Franziska / University of the Witwatersrand

Politics, Affect and the Everyday: Subjectivity in Political Biographies of the 1980s

The last few years have seen a proliferation of biographies of ‘big men’ and their contribution to the liberation struggle in South Africa. Celebrating the lives of current and former leaders of the African National Congress in particular, their involvement in formal political structures has been at the centre of analysis. This emphasis on organised formal politics reflects a triumphalist struggle narrative that has emerged since the first democratic elections in 1994. The subjective experiences, perceptions and aspirations of less prominent activists have attracted less attention. Furthermore, the linearity of conventional biographic narratives obscures the contradictions and complexities of individuals’ lives.
Based on archival sources and life history interviews, this paper analyses the formation of political subjectivities during the final decade of the struggle against apartheid. Focussing on the Vaal Triangle and KwaThema, the paper pays particular attention to the relation between politics and subjective experiences of the everyday in shaping a sense of the self, community and the nation. It also analyses the extent to which affect and relationships impacted on the formation of political subjectivities during this period by situating individual lives within broader networks of family, friendship and other social relations.

Paper 5

Cooper-Knock Sarah Jane / University of Edinburgh

“I am not a Police Person”: Politics, Police Legitimacy and the Everyday State in Durban

In the rich literature on social movements in post-apartheid South Africa, many have explored the degree to which particular social movements cooperate with the state or adopt a more antagonistic stance (Ballard et al 2005, Beinart and Dawson 2010, Pithouse and Desai 2004, Robins 2010). Some break this picture down further, exploring the degree to which movements are able to cultivate or capitalise upon unique relationships with specific state actors or departments (Bell 2014, Mbali 2013). Such accounts remind us that the state is, in reality, a collection of individuals and institutions that are often heterogeneous and fragmented, if not in active conflict with each other (Abrams 1988, Mitchell 1991). Their work has helped us to gain a more nuanced understanding of South Africa’s political landscape and the nature of statehood and citizenship within it. What is less prevalent in the literature on popular politics, are studies of individuals and the diverse relationships they hold with state actors and institutions as they traverse between social movements and ‘societies in movement’ in the midst of everyday life (Zibechi 2012). Here, I look at the relationship informal settlement residents had with the state police – ‘the state on the streets’ (Hinton 2006) – exploring people’s decision to utilise the SAPS and the degree to which their decisions were influenced by the everyday politics of living in shacks, and their membership of a local shack dwellers’ social movement.

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